Rebekah Helzel's tears of joy quickly dried and elation turned to bewilderment as the founder of Advocates for Real Community Housing was told that her winning bid in Tuesday's IRS auction of three Ketchum apartment buildings wasn't good enough.
Helzel's triumphant $2.3 million bid was greeted with applause from a crowd of onlookers and affordable housing supporters.
But the sweet victory was also short, as officials from EG&G Tech Services, the private contractor handling the auction, quickly informed Helzel that her bid was $1.2 million short of the $3.5 million minimum bid.
"Obviously, it didn't come close to the minimum bid," said Anthony Pounders, an operations manager with EG&G.
Helzel and others were both shocked and confused, as EG&G never made it public that they had set a minimum bid, let alone that it was $3.5 million.
"It was undisclosed, which is typical of any type of auction," Pounders said.
But Helzel questioned the integrity and motive behind EG&G's sudden announcement.
"They just wanted a lot of money and they didn't get it," Helzel said. "This is ridiculous. I thought this was a free market economy."
Michael David, executive director of the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority, Helzel, and members of EG&G met for two hours after the auction to discuss the issue but no agreement was reached. Pounders said EG&G has not decided on its next step, and holding another auction or placing the property on the market are both options.
Helzel said Pounders promised her EG&G would not take any action without first notifying Advocates for Real Community Housing, a nonprofit organization based in Ketchum.
"If they blow us off, they'll have another thing coming," Helzel said.
A total of 18 bidders participated in the auction, which Pounders believes was hamstrung by the affordable housing issue.
"Today had a lot to do with recent press," Pounders said. "(Affordable housing) gave some of the developers second thoughts."
The three buildings, located at 106 and 110 Rember Street and 154 Bird Dr., were seized several years ago after the owners, Patrick O'Malley Cannon, of Ketchum and California, and David Stanley Brocklebank, of Hailey, were discovered to be part of an international drug-smuggling scheme. The buildings, which contain 14 residential units, were officially forfeited in February of 2004 when both men were sentenced to 40 months in prison for money laundering and conspiracy to smuggle and distribute drugs.
But the announcement of an auction wasn't made public until late last month.
With a massive shortage of affordable housing units in Ketchum, city and community leaders rallied around the cause and asked the IRS to postpone the auction to allow Advocates for Real Community Housing to raise enough funds to have a fighting chance. But the IRS denied the request.
On Tuesday, Ketchum City Council President Randy Hall said he was disappointed in the outcome but that the issue is far from dead.
"We need to keep pressing our elected officials, from the federal level on down," he said. "We need to keep going. I feel strongly that the property needs to remain in workforce housing authority."
Hall added that "at least we know how much the property is worth ... it's worth $2.3 million."